Second Place Still Wins. July 12

Second Place Still Wins

Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches; July 12, 2020


In the middle of March 2020, just as our stay-at-home orders commenced here in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo was interviewed on TV.  He spoke about what we knew about the Corona virus and about the importance of staying at home in order to flatten the curve.  Then, because the interviewer was the governor’s younger brother, Chris Cuomo, the spot ended with banter about which of them was Mom’s favorite.  They agreed that neither of them was at the top of their mother’s list; one of their sisters held that honor.  Today’s reading from Genesis was of another pair of brothers, Esau and Jacob.  Their relationship was not marked by friendly banter, at least as it’s told in this 25th chapter.  Theirs is a serious sibling rivalry.  The Genesis story intensifies the rivalry because Jacob seems not only to be Rachel’s favorite, but also God’s favorite.  The story of scripture goes on as Jacob’s story; Esau is a sideline, the ancestor of another nation, Edom, a neighbor of the nation of Israel.   Sibling rivalry isn’t only an ancient reality.  Many of us with siblings understand the problem well; some still wrestle with it even as adults.  We want to be the best, the favorite, the most successful, with the best job and the most beloved grandchildren.  As the story of Jacob and Esau plays out, Jacob wins.  He gets Esau’s birthright; next week we’ll read on and hear how he gets Esau’s blessing from Isaac, and he ends up with the legacy.  We’ll spend time with Jacob in the coming weeks – his story is hard to ignore.  But today I want to focus on Esau, the loser, the second-place survivor.  What happens to the Esaus of the world? 


Esau actually does OK for himself.  Chapter 36 of Genesis tells of Esau’s children and grandchildren and descendants.  Before that, in chapter 33, when Jacob comes home from Padan-aram with his entourage of wives and children and sheep and goats, Esau comes to meet him at the river Jabbok with open arms of forgiveness and welcome.  Esau has moved on from his fury over Jacob’s deceptive ways in the years since his brother left.  Esau found a way to peace. 


Many of us, no matter where we fall in the family, find a way to a sort of peace, to a life that works.  We know from the field of psychology that we are marked in many ways by our experience in our family of origin, and there are scars on many hearts because of early family trauma.  And there is healing.  Those who find a way through to the peace that Esau found are blessed.   Friendships with siblings are among many people’s most cherished relationships, in part because they last over most of our lives.  It’s why there are so many Zoom calls on Sunday nights, keeping families together, waving to nieces and nephews and telling stories even as we’ve been forced to be apart. 


I appreciate that scripture tells stories that ring true, that tell of the pain of rivalry and of the sweetness of forgiveness.  I appreciate, too, the apostle Paul’s naming of his understanding of God’s love for all of us, winners and losers, in his letter to the Romans.  For there is therefore now no condemnation in Christ Jesus.  The world may push us into specific roles and competitions – football stars and chess champions and those who get cut from the JV basketball team, and the adult versions of the same challenges – the managers and administrators and those who struggle to hold down a job, the victors of elections and the losers who head home dejected.  It’s hard to avoid the constant striving to be better that is the foundation of our society.  The gospel calls us not to forget the rest of the crowd, both the unassuming, quiet types who are comfortable taking a back seat, and those who never quite make it.  God’s love is for all of us.  All of us.  And the disciples of Jesus Christ are given the responsibility to proclaim that love as real and foundational when the rest of the world forgets.


So our church throws open our doors to the successful and those on the way up the ladder of success, and to those who are struggling, or weak or who have taken the wrong path somewhere along the way.  You may hear the story of Esau and Jacob and say, well, it’s Esau’s own fault.  He was greedy and hungry and made a poor decision.  Jacob simply made the offer; Esau took him up on it and sold his birthright.  The gospel of Jesus Christ says Esau still belongs in the community of the saved, beloved by Jesus even though he was not wise.  We have neighbors who have made unwise decisions as well.  They don’t cease to be our neighbors, whom Jesus asks us to love and care for.  It can be a challenge to keep the balance of striving to make wise decisions ourselves and continue to care for those who are being stupid.  That’s the gospel word we’re given. 


Which means that the homeless and the hungry and the prisoner and the guy who lives on the corner and drinks too much are all part of the beloved community of the church.  There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus; there is grace and encouragement to love and learn and try again.  We are forgiven and we live with a culture of forgiveness.  Such a culture allows us, ultimately, to live in that peace that Esau exhibits when his winning brother comes home.  Esau, the loser and unwise porridge-trader is the one who opens his arms to his brother in forgiveness and welcome.  This is who we’re called to be as disciples of Jesus, welcoming the lost, the forgotten, the stupid, the mean, the despairing, all of us together, praising God, blessed and forgiven and saved by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Genesis 25:19-34

19These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.



Psalm 119:105-112

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.

I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word.

Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances.

I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.

The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.

Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.

I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.




Romans 8:1-11

8There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.




Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

13That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!” … 18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


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